Dickson: The magic of peer tutors in middle school

Mar 4, 2024, 1:56 PM

Oquirrh Hills Middle School shown, peer tutors there work with students with special needs...

Oquirrh Hills Middle School in Riverton is pictured on Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019. (Kristin Murphy/Deseret News)

(Kristin Murphy/Deseret News)

This is an editorial piece. An editorial, like a news article, is based on fact but also shares opinions. The opinions expressed here are solely those of the author and are not associated with our newsroom.

Want to renew your faith in the future? Go observe peer tutors in a special education class.

Peer tutors are students of the same age in the same school who work one-on-one with students with special needs in their school.

I recently spent the afternoon substitute teaching in a special education class at Oquirrh Hills Middle School. What I witnessed that day will stay with me always.

There were 13 children in the classroom with various needs. I had several students who had Down Syndrome, like my own daughter Laurel. There were various other challenges present, some more profound than others, but all were beautiful children doing their best.

Each time the bell rang, a new group of peer tutors would appear.

They checked in on their computers and then would go to sit next to the students they worked with. The boys would high-five the boys they were matched with like they were teammates on the basketball squad together. The girls would hug and sometimes dance.

Whatever assignment we were working on, whether it was a craft assignment or watching a video and then writing what we saw, the peer tutors stayed with their students, guiding them, helping them and praising them.

When the bell rang, I could tell it was hard for some of the kids to see their peer tutor go.

Lunch in a middle school cafeteria

If it’s been a while since you’ve had lunch in a middle school cafeteria, I recommend you visit. It’s every bit the trip you might remember from your own middle school days and more.

We took our students to the table against the far wall where they always sat. The teachers helped the students and made sure their milk cartons were opened and they had what they needed.

When the room filled with hundreds of 12-15-year-olds, the noise level went sky high, but then the magic happened.

Some of the peer tutors who had been with the students earlier in the day came over to say “hello.” They were friends. You could feel the genuine camaraderie between them.

What our kids are learning

I read a lot in the news about what our kids are learning, what books are in their libraries and what facts they are taught in history.

What I want you to know is that some of the most important learning in our middle schools is happening in the special education classrooms.

When I commented to the other teachers how impressed I was with the peer tutors, they told me that some of these students struggle in the rest of their classes, but not here. Here, they know how to be teachers, friends and helpers. Here, they are needed and their skills are so admirable.

It only took a few short hours before my heart was filled with the spirit of that school, of the students there, and of the magic of peer tutoring.

All of the generalizations of selfish young kids on their cellphones went out the window and were replaced with human kindness and brotherly love.

Amanda Dickson is the co-host of Utah’s Morning News and A Woman’s View on KSL NewsRadio. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram. 

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Dickson: The magic of peer tutors in middle school